A dead season comes back to life



Fulham FC manager Slavisa Jokanovic. PICTURE: GETTY IMAGES

Morgan Phillips

By Morgan Phillips

On a cold winter’s night some years ago I sat watching a spectacularly poor League Cup match at Craven Cottage. The game was being broadcast live on TV and as it crawled towards extra time I wondered if any viewer anywhere was still tuned in.

No such misgivings spoilt Saturday evening’s League match against Derby. After a moderately entertaining half hour’s play the real excitement began. A foul on Rui Fonte inside the Derby half led to a powerful free kick by Oliver Norwood, which was handled just outside the area. Norwood tried again and somehow found a gap between Scott Carson’s head and the crossbar. The goal shocked Derby, who responded by putting the Fulham defence under pressure, but at half-time the score remained 1-0. There were cheers – not boos – coming from the Hammersmith End.

The interval gave supporters the opportunity to welcome Micky Adams back to the Cottage and a substantial number of players from Fulham’s promotion winning squad of 1996-97. I have praised the work of the supporters and administrators who kept the club alive in the 1980s and 90s. The achievements of Micky and his players showed that all that effort was worthwhile.

In the second half, Derby resumed their fight back. Tom Lawrence did a Rodney Marsh impersonation, foxing four Fulham defenders and creating a simple equaliser for Matei Vydra. After that either side could have won. The home team perhaps deserved victory as they could have had two penalties (both more obvious to the TV cameras than to the officials). Derby, including Chris Baird, defended with courage but they also benefitted from the home team’s abysmal shooting.

In the entire second period Fulham achieved not a single effort on target. So how could anyone anticipate the feast of goals at Sheffield United just three evenings later?

Fulham’s broadband radio commentator Gentleman Jim was not the only one to feel that Ryan Sessegnon had looked in need of a rest after his exertions this season. Ryan soon proved that our fears were unfounded. And Sheyi Ojo, returning from injury, showed the remarkable flair that impressed us in when he visited the Cottage with Wolves not long ago.

Sheffield United, second in the table, have their own star in Leon Clarke, who scored four goals in one match earlier this month. In the sixth minute he seized on the Fulham goalkeeper’s mishandling to put United ahead. In response, Sessegnon and Ojo harried the home defence until a weak back pass allowed Ojo to equalise in the 27th minute. Then almost immediately the scorer provided a marvellous goal for Sessegnon. The lead vanished when Clarke outwitted Tim Ream and goalkeeper David Button to make it 2-2 only for Fulham’s 17-year-old prodigy to score again before halftime.

In the 70th minute, Tim Ream foiled yet another United attack, allowing Aboubakar Kamara to move the ball upfield and feed it to Ojo, whose deflected shot found the corner of the net. Sessegnon completed his hat-trick to give his team an unthinkable 5-2 advantage with 12 minutes left. United did not surrender. Samir Carruthers made it 3-5, then Clarke completed the second hat-trick of the evening, but the victory and the points belonged to Fulham.

The club’s moribund season had sprung back to life.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not necessarily those of Hammersmith & Fulham Council.

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